Holy shit I love this record…
Okay, so I suppose that’s maybe not the most professional way to kick off an album review, but whatever. This is a punk rock website and reviewing albums isn’t exactly my profession in the technical sense… Anyway, let’s start over.
Back in September of 2011, just a day before my 32nd birthday, I had the privilege of reviewing the then-brand-new and incredibly stellar Samiam album Trips. I loved it. I loved everything about it. It finished the year right near the top of my Best of 2011 albums list, and if I were to rerank that list a dozen years later, it’s probably the album that holds up the best. Sometime after Trips was released, I remember commenting on some social media platform – I think it was MySpace honestly rofl – that hopefully it wouldn’t be another five years before the next new Samiam record (Trips is preceded in the Samiam discography by 2006’s Whatever’s Got You Down) and the band’s lead guitarist and artistic force Sergie Loobkoff just responded “LOL” or something like that. At the time, I interpreted that as “LOL, don’t worry, we won’t wait that long next time.” Yet here we are, just about a dozen full years later, and we’ve finally got the follow up to Trips in our midst. It’s called Stowaway and it’s out this Friday (March 31st) on Pure Noise Records and saying that it was worth the wait is a bit of hyperbole because I wish we didn’t have to wait 11.5 years…but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t worth the wait.
Stowaway kicks off with “Lake Speed,” a track whose introductory air-raid siren dive bombs are soon met with a frenetic energy that shows that musically, Samiam have not only not lost a step but are in fact as charged-up as ever. It’s as tight and concise a post-hardcore-style ripper as you’ll find in the Samiam catalog complete with a pretty awesome guest spot from *SPOILER ALERT* none other than Hot Water Music’s Chris Wollard. It’s a damn-near perfect track, with Wollard and Samiam frontman Jason Beebout layering their unique voices over Loobkoff and Sean Kennerly’s dizzying guitar runs while the comparatively new rhythm section of Colin Brooks (drums) and Chad Darby (bass – more on that later) push a blistering pace. The whole thing is controlled chaos and creates the sense that it could careen off the rails at any moment, but then it’s over somehow just as quickly as it began. (Oh, and its lyrical tip of the cap to the longtime NASCAR driver with whom it shares its name is just the icing on the proverbial cake).
“Lake Speed” gives way to “Crystallized,” one of the three singles that was put out in the leadup to the album’s release. In many ways, it’s a perfect single: it’s got a big, classic Samiam sound that’s been charged up by Brooks and Darby the latter of whom you may recognize from his time in one of Chris Wollard’s other projects, Ship Thieves. If you’re an astute follower of Dying Scene, you’ll recall the time that he and Wollard joined us on the (*both laugh*) podcast, during which he may or may not have indicated that he was working with Samiam on new music and may have short-circuited my brain in the process…
“Lights Out, Little Hustler” follows and continues in the vein of charged-up, instant classic Samiam tunes. Oodles of vocal harmonies adorn the verses before frontman Jason Beebout’s inimitable voice powers through on the powerful, introspective singalong chorus. “Shoulda Stayed” would have been right at home on 120 Minutes or on a certain skateboard-inspired videogame series in a previous decade, as do the chunky guitar in the verses of “Shut Down.” “Scout Knife” features another appearance from Wollard, which makes sense given that some of the album’s components were recorded at Gainesville’s Black Bear Studios with frequent HWM/Ship Thieves collaborator Ryan Williams.
“Monterey Canyon” features probably the album’s best examples of the Loobkoff’s trademark single-note atmospheric divebomb melody lines. “Natural Disasters” is maybe the brightest sounding track on the album to this point, in some ways belying the songs vocals which, if taken literally, lament that the damage we’ve done to our home planet is probably irreparable at this point. “Stanley” is a fun song with a lot of different stylistic layers and sonic textures. “Highwire” starts somewhat down tempo for a Samiam song but turns itself into a a bombastic anthem with what are probably Beebout’s most soaring vocal performance. “Something” is a sneaky contender for my favorite track on the album that isn’t called “Lake Speed.” It’s a no-nonsense, four-on-the-floor, downstroke heavy punk rock ripper with Loobkoff and Kennerly again trading catchy guitar melodies over an even catchier shoutalong outro. The title track closes out the festivities in a way that probably best encapsulates all of the album’s different layers and textures and sonic directions in one four-minute package.
There has been talk at times over the years since Trips that part of the reason that there wasn’t new Samiam music was due to concern over whether or not Beebout still wanted to sing and to write new lyrics; there’s a quote out there somewhere about “maybe people over the age of 50 should admit they’re probably too old to be in the music business” I think. To state it emphatically and for the record, I’m really glad he decided to keep at it. Beebout’s voice has long been one of the most powerful and unique in the game and that’s just as true a statement now on Stowaway as it was at any other point in the band’s thirty-five year tenure. There’s a feeling and an urgency and an introspection and a devilish humor in both his vocals and his lyrics that are unmatched and that have the ability to provoke both goosebumps and long, honest looks in the mirror, sometimes within the same song. See “Shut Down” or “Monterrey Canyon” on this one, for example. When added to Loobkoff and Kennerly’s urgent guitars and, lately, Brooks and Darby’s punishing grooves, it’s part and parcel to what makes Samiam Samiam after all this time. It’s fair to say that Stowaway will be tough to dislodge from the #1 spot on this year’s end-of best-of list, and it’s fair to say that if I revisit this album in another dozen years, when I’m in my mid-50s (woof…) it’ll still feel as vital and compelling as ever.